Affording Veganism

I’m not a vegan veteran. I’ve been vegan for just over a year now, and I have to say that I’ve faced my share of challenges. When I look back at my pre-vegetarian days, I remember feeling overwhelmed when I’d look at recipes and articles about plant-based “superfoods”. It all seemed so difficult. I had no idea what it meant to eat a plant-based diet (would I starve?) and I’d feel out of place in Organic/Whole foods stores.

Two years down the line, with plenty of trial and error, I feel more confident and can navigate my way around a weekly plant-based meal plan. I haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be a newbie and hope I can shed some light on the simplicity of a plant-based diet for those who might be toying with the idea of adopting it.

 

Let’s start by defining what being vegan is NOT. It is not a fad nor is it only for the wealthier part of society. Unfortunately, that is the impression a lot of people have of the lifestyle and diet – “too expensive”.

Most simple Asian dishes are naturally vegan. One of my favourite dishes is Indian Dal (lentil curry) and rice. It’s comfort food for me – warm, nutritious and doesn’t cost me an arm and leg. Growing up, I came to see Dal and rice as a poor man’s meal and it is what a lot of the underprivileged in India eat till today.

dal and rice, Betty Anwar, Vegan

A simple meal of Dal, Rice and Veggies.

 

Even in Mediterranean regions like Greece, it is traditional to eat meals free of animal products during the fasting periods.

So what does it mean to be vegan? The following definition from the Vegan Society (registered charity since 1979) sums it up perfectly:

“A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

 

Like with any diet/lifestyle, there are those who will take things to extremes and those who will take on a “holier-than-thou” stance, possibly even wagging fingers at anyone who isn’t doing it “right”. There is no right or wrong. The reason I chose to be vegan was out of disgust at how the industry is exploiting innocent animals and keeping us in the dark.

So being vegan does not only pertain to food, it means making conscious choices every day to lead a lifestyle that emphasises compassion. Finding alternatives to most of what we’re used to, is initially a challenge. Which is why adopting a vegan lifestyle should be a well-thought-out decision with emphasis on simplicity, practicality and sustainability.

For the sake of keeping this concise, I’d like to stick with the diet aspect of veganism, starting with redefining a vegan diet. I like the term “Whole-food Plant-based Diet”, which focusses on whole, unprocessed plants that include fruit, vegetables, tubers, legumes and whole grains. It excludes or minimises the use of refined oils, sugars and flours and excludes animal products (meat, dairy, eggs and, in some cases, honey)Betty anwar, Affording veganism, fresh produce.

There has been plenty of evidence showing how beneficial such a diet is and I can vouch for it as well (I’ve been on both sides of the playing field and have witnessed tremendous improvements in my well-being). I won’t go into details, but here are some articles for your perusal:
https://www.vegansociety.com/go-vegan/why-go-vegan

http://www.forksoverknives.com/the-film/

http://www.pcrm.org/health/diets/vegdiets/vegetarian-foods-powerful-for-health

Health benefits of being vegetarian

20 Health Benefits of Going Vegan, According to Science (+6 Delicious Vegan Recipes)

https://www.positivehealthwellness.com/diet-nutrition/everything-need-know-going-vegan/

So far so good, you’ve understood the concept – maybe even agree with it. The next phase is applying it i.e. you look up recipes and head to the store. You’ve probably found some items in your regular super market, but suddenly you’re faced with things like “Nutritional Yeast”, “Quinoa”, “Chia” ,”Hemp seeds” and nut butters to mention a few. Off you go to your nearest Organic/Whole foods store where the prices are sometimes shocking. Now, you may be in a position to spend about 12 – 33 euros on a jar of almond butter, but not everyone is.

Imagine a family on one income with 4 or more mouths to feed…..imagine a family living off benefits. Now imagine what a plant-based diet looks like to them…..

I recently had a chat with a fellow plant-based eater who insisted that all food you buy must be organic. Whilst I completely agree that organic food is better for you, I am also aware that it is expensive to buy organic produce and that option is not available to everyone.

If you took a look around areas that house low income families, you’ll rarely find a Health food store around the corner, nor will you find these families shopping at the local farmer’s markets. What you will find is a local discount supermarket and lots of cheap fast food around, what in geographical terms is called a “Food Desert”.

 

Betty Anwar, affrding veganism, food desert

Source: theodysseyonline.com

In Germany, a person living on benefits (Hartz 4) receives about 404 euros per month. The break down here http://www.hartziv.org/ shows how that amount is estimated to be used. It approximates 143 euros for food and non-alcoholic beverages – insufficient for buying organic all month long.

In the past few months I’ve met people who’ve come across as very dogmatic in their approach and application of a plant-based diet. It’s easy to do so when you’re not struggling to get by every month. Even if you’re not, one should never feel nor be made to feel like they’re not living up to certain standards. A plant-based diet is as the definition states above. No one says you need to live beyond your means to eat plants!

If you are enthusiastic about spreading the message about plant-based eating, then it’s the welfare sector of our society that needs reaching out. We all shop around for a good bargain, but this group doesn’t have a choice. The message needs to be tailored so that it’s attractive, practical and most important, affordable for them.

I spend under 65 euros per week at my local supermarket. This usually includes 3-4 weekday meals and 2 weekend meals with at least one or two meals I can freeze. Most of the produce is not organic, but if I find something reasonably priced, I will pick it up.

Before I get heat for saying that I don’t shop at the uppity organic stores, let me re-iterate that I support organic farming and eating 100%. The pesticides used in conventional farming practices can wreak havoc on your body.

That being said, here are my ideas on how you can adopt and healthy, plant-based diet without breaking the bank:

  • Making inorganic fruit and veg safe to eat:

Soak fruit and veg in a solution of sea salt or white distilled vinegar solution or baking soda can help remove bacteria and pesticides.

Fill a tumbler/sink with water and add salt/vinegar/baking soda (A general rule of thumb would be to mix 1 teaspoon of salt/vinegar/baking soda in a cup of water). Stir solution till it’s clear. Soak the produce for about 2 minutes and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Pat dry and refrigerate.

Another option for non-organic veggies like carrots and cucumbers, is to scrape the skin off.

  • Steer clear of ready to eat foods labelled “vegetarian”, “vegan” and “low fat”:

There’s plenty of processed, junk food out there and they are expensive. Always check the back for hidden sugars and ingredients you’ve never heard of.

For example, cereals like Special K are sugary, contain quite a bit of salt, barely keep you satiated (who sticks to the recommended 31g serving size?!) and cost a whopping 3-4 euros for 300g.

Now take a pack of simple whole grain oats – about 50 cents for 500g. Add nuts or seeds and maybe some fruit and you’ve got your hunger under check for a good 3-4 hours. A pack of oats in our house lasts a good week.

I could go on about the processed vegan cheese and vegan “deli meat” etc., but I think you get the point.

  • Make your transition easy:

This is going to contradict what I’ve said above, but it is such an important part of transitioning to a complete plant-based diet.

If you’ve been raised on meat, cheese, milk, eggs etc. you’ll find that whilst you transition to a plant-based diet, your body will crave these products. Most people find the cheese is the hardest to give up. Look at this phase like experiencing withdrawals.

You are trying to rewire your brain and body to associate fruit, veg, nuts and grains as equivalent nutrition sources, and this can take time (sometimes up to a year). During this period, allow yourself to indulge in vegan junk food like deli “meat”, vegan “cheese” etc. Know that it is only temporary and like with cravings/withdrawals, there will be peaks and valleys.

  • Drop the idea of “Superfood”:

Yes, superfoods are a myth, and a marketing ploy for you to spend big bucks.

Every climate region allows certain fruit and vegetable to thrive and no fruit/veg is superior to another. It’s not the way nature works.

Blueberries have been marketed as a superfood for a long time now and I see the tiniest punnets being sold in India -a country not home to the blueberry bush – at extortionate prices. People in countries where Blueberries do not grow have been doing just fine without this “superfood”.

So what’s so super about it? Nothing. It’s still of nutritional value but hasn’t got the fountain of youth hidden in it.

Which brings me to my next point.

  • Don’t feel pressured into buying fancy items if your budget doesn’t allow for it:

Quinoa, kamut, hemp and chia seeds, matcha…everyone’s talking about them! Not everyone has access to these products.

Rice, potatoes, millet, wheat etc. are just as nutritious as a carbohydrate source and are affordable.
Cheaper alternatives to hemp and chia would be legumes and flaxseed, both of which are grown worldwide.

  • Support local farmers and buy seasonal produce:

I’ve noticed that German “farmer markets” may or may not have the actual farmers on site. I’ve been told that some are distributors for a particular (or maybe several) farms. Their fruit and veg always look really good, but a lot of it is non-organic, imported, and costs a LOT more than the local discounters.

I once bought a single courgette (zuchini) from my local farmer’s market – I paid 2.19 euros AND it was imported!!

Now take items like potatoes, swiss chard, carrots and other veggies you’re more likely to find grown in a neighbouring farm – they’re are equivalent in price or cheaper than the supermarkets.

Here is a list of seasonal fruit and veg grown in Germany:

Betty Anwar, Vegan, Seasonal produce, Germany

Seasonal produce in Germany Source: Bundesvereinigung der Erzeugerorganisationen Obst und Gemuese e.V.

  • Grown your own:

If you have the garden space and know a thing or two about sowing seeds, you could plan to have your own produce all year round! You could also start small by growing herbs in pots.

  • Cook from scratch and freeze portions:

If you have time over the weekends, get the family involved and make a meal. Freeze portions of it for when time is not on your side. You can also pre-cut and prep your veggies so they’re ready to be thrown together for your weekday meal. Planning and prepping can save you loads of time and money, and it ensures that you’re not tempted to pick up pre-packaged and processed foods.

  • Nut butters and plant-based milk don’t have to be store bought:

If you’re in possession of a food processor, you can easily make nut butter and plant-based milk at home.

If you can’t afford a blender and can’t make nut butter, get your hands on a bag of peanuts and go to town on it!
Cheaper plant-based milks are oat and rice milk. If the taste doesn’t appeal to you, add water or fresh orange juice into your morning cereal.

  • Finding cheaper replacements for coconut oil:

I’ve found coconut oil here in Germany very expensive, and it drives me crazy because in India it is the cheapest oil you will find! I’ve stopped cooking in oil for about a year now and use water instead to fry onions etc. If you’re looking to get a coconutty flavour, you can add coconut milk instead of water.

If you do buy oil, look around for bargains on cold-pressed oils. These are minimally processed but might not be stable under high temperatures.

  • The deal with honey:

Honey consumption is a matter of debate in the plant-based community. If you still want to consume honey, make sure it’s from a keeper who takes care of his/her bees – again local is the way to go. You can also visit local apiaries and decide for yourself.
If you want to explore other options, maple syrup (can be pricey), rice syrup, agave syrup and the like are good substitutes. Like with all sugary items, you don’t want to consume these in bulk. Opt for whole fruits if you want a sugar kick.

 

So there you have it – my 2 cents worth on how to make a plant-based diet work for everyone.

As for veganism, it is the element of intent that sets it apart from other lifestyle choices. Vegans strive consciously to avoid harming other life forms. This does not mean that vegans do not hurt others inadvertently, but that it is never their aim to do so.(1)

As much as we try to live a totally harm-free life, it is impossible. “All animate sentient beings inflict some form of injury or death to others simply by their existence.”(1)

Don’t get buried under the rules, standards and marketing jargon people throw around with regards to a simple plant-based diet. The key here – as with any diet, exercise program, and basically anything new you adopt – is to keep things simple, practical and ensure that it can be sustained long term.

 

References:

http://www.vegsource.com/jo/qa/qahoney.htm

https://worldwidevegetarian.com/2015/03/is-it-possible-to-be-vegan-in-india/

https://www.vegansociety.com/go-vegan/definition-veganism

http://www.forksoverknives.com/the-fok-diet/

http://www.bioland.de/im-fokus/hintergrund/detail/article/mehr-oeko-durch-die-mehrwertsteuer.html

http://www.livestrong.com/article/505005-how-to-soak-vegetables-fruit-in-sea-salt-water-to-remove-pesticides/

http://www.livestrong.com/article/255880-how-to-clean-fruits-vegetables-with-vinegar/

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/healthyeating/11158676/The-myth-of-the-superfood.html

 

full plank, high plank

Fit in 5 minutes: Say hello to the Plank

The Holidays are wonderful to spend quality time with friends and family. They are also associated with overindulgence, and you sort of take for granted that you’ll pile on the pounds.

 

Does it always have to be that way?

 

Some might argue that a 2 month set back in an entire year isn’t a bad deal. If you have a regular exercise and healthy eating plan that you’ve been following, then I’m with you.

 

Now what if your decision to get back in shape was made closer to the holidays? Do you need to give it all up?

Don’t get me wrong, the emphasis here is not on weight gain/loss. It’s about a breaking a health and fitness regime you had going (irrespective of what stage it was in) even when things get crazy busy.

I’m all about doing as little as possible to stay healthy. The key is consistency i.e. doing something every day…even if it’s for 5 minutes.

I want to share with you one exercise that you can perform daily till the festivities come to an end. It will only take 5 minutes of your day and keep you on track so you can jump right back into your pre-Holiday routine without any setbacks.
Have I sparked your interest yet?

 

Say hello to the Plank. If you’ve been practicing with me you’ll be familiar with this and the funky variations it comes with. All in all it is, in my opinion, THE most effective bodyweight exercise. Here’s why:

  1. It is a FULL body exercise. You use your arms, upper back, core (abs and lower back), thighs, buttocks, and even your feet to keep you in this position. You’re looking at a stronger core (say good bye to lower back aches), firm buttocks, toned arms and lengthened calves.
  2. It is an effective way to strengthen the wrists. I see a lot of students with weak wrists and I can’t stress how important it is to strengthen this area. Opening doors, driving, cooking (and associated prep work), carrying groceries, playing an instrument, pushing a stroller, typing – tasks we perform every day that require hands. In fact one of the causes of Carpal Tunnel is wrist weakness. Not convinced? How about wrist strength and upper body strength go hand in hand? Strengthen one and you strengthen the other.
  3. It strengthens and maintains the flexibility in your toes and feet. Your feet are the only connection between your physical body and the earth. These are what “ground” and stabilise you – your foundation. If these are weak, other muscles have to work extra to compensate leading to a host of other issues due to the imbalance created.
  4. It is a mental exercise. Very rarely in a class are you asked to hold a plank for more than 10 seconds. Most likely, you will move into several variations. In my experience, one of the most challenging aspects to holding a plank is keeping still. It’s a work in progress for me and depends on the state of my mind at that moment. Don’t be discouraged if you find yourself getting fidgety and cursing 😉 practice will help immensely and you’ll find it paying off in your Yoga class and in other aspects of your day-to-day lives.

 

How to perform a Plank

I’ve chosen a high Plank in this post to ensure you get maximum benefit in a short time.

High Plank

  1. Start in a table top pose (hands and knees/all 4s) with your knees perpendicular to your hips and hips distance apart. Wrists are under your shoulders and shoulder width apart.
  2. Head and neck:
    • Keep the neck long and drawing away from the shoulders. One way to ensure this is by finding a point slightly ahead of you to gaze at.
  3. Hands and Arms:
    • Spread your fingers out as wide as possible and engage the muscles of the arm by pressing the base of the knuckles into the mat/floor.
    •  Your middle finger points in the direction of your gaze.
    • The weight is not in the heel of your hand, but rather distributed evenly throughout the entire surface area of the palm.
    • Don’t lock the elbows out. Keep them soft.
  4. Chest:
    • Keep the collar bones wide (Imagine your chest expanding)
  5. Upper back:
    • Keep the shoulder blades on your back, don’t let them wing out like they would if you rounded your back.
    • Keep your shoulders away from your ears.
  6. Core:
    • As you exhale, feel the muscles of your abdominals moving towards your spine, and the sides of your waist drawing in. These are the muscles you want to keep strong and engaged throughout to protect your lower back.
    • The challenge comes with keeping this activation and not restricting your breath and the movement of your diaphragm.
  7. Legs and feet:
    • Extend one leg out behind you so it’s resting on the ball of your foot, and then extend the other.
    • Activate the heels by attempting to press them back (you will feel your calves here).
    • Squeeze the inner thighs together.
    • Squeeze the buttock muscles.
    • Activate the front of the thighs (quadriceps) by drawing the knee caps up.
    • Don’t lock the knees. Like the elbows, keep them soft.
  8. Hips:
    • Keep the hips in line with your shoulders (it helps to first do this with the help pf a mirror). You should be able to see your feet if you look under, and you will see a straight line from your head to your heels if you looked in a mirror.
    • Sagging hips are a lower back injury waiting to happen. You will feel the strain in your back and your feet will have disappeared!

 

Now every part of your body is working. Keep imagining the crown of your head and tailbone moving away from each other, lengthening the spine.

 

Observe your inhales and exhales, keep breathing and remember that each exhale helps you reconnect with your power house, associated with confidence and will power, the core.

 

Exiting is just as important as entry. Gently lower one knee and then the other. Shift your hips back and sit on your heels. Never exit hastily from a pose to avoid injuries.

 

Release your wrists with slow, conscious circular movements – clockwise and anticlockwise.

 

Modifications if the version above is too intense

  1. Once you extend both legs out, keep everything working and gently lower your knees down to the floor/mat. You know you’ve done it right if you lift your knees off and are in a full plank without changing anything (in other words, the angle your body makes between the knees and the mat/floor is about 45 degrees). You may chose to experiment keeping the feet on the floor or raising them.

Modified plank on kneesModified plank on knees

  1. If you have separation of the abdominal muscles (Diastasis Recti) of more than 2 fingers’ width, it is safer to plank using a chair or coffee table that’s sturdy. Make sure your shoulders are over your wrists and that the entire palm of your hand is on the surface of the chair or table.

Modified plank on chair, diastasis recti

Getting your Plank on

  1. Week 1: Start with 2 sets/rounds of 10 seconds each. If you feel that didn’t challenge you, then by all means go for 30 seconds or even a minute. Doing it twice is the key.
  2. Week 2: Add another 20 to 30 seconds. Do it twice every day.
  3. Week 3 and so on…keep adding 20 – 30s until you’ve reached 5 minutes.

 

Practice holding a Plank for 5 minutes for a week and on busy days. Observe any changes (physical and mental) this has brought about.

 

Remember, the idea here is staying consistent. This will without a doubt keep you in shape and not regressing if you’ve been making progress. You’ll emerge on the other side of the “Holiday High” stronger and ready to take on the New Year!

“Leafy” Fruit Salad

I recently visited a friend who lives out in the country side, on a golf course. Her husband is a very talented artist (you can see some of his extraordinary work here – Frank Rosenzweig) who has helped me design some pretty awesome business cards.

This salad was served for lunch and it rocked! I must have helped myself to 3 servings (and that was me holding back!). This is a sweetish salad – perfect for a meal/dessert combo.

IMAG0355

Serves 8 -10

Ingredients

  • 1 pack rocket leaves
  • 1 pack lamb’s lettuce (if you can find baby spinach leaves, add them too)
  • 500g pack of vine ripened cherry tomatoes (first quarter these and half each quarter)
  • 1 cucumber, diced
  • 1 punnet of blueberries
  • 2 ripe mangoes, diced
  • 4 figs (first quarter these and half each quarter)
  • 2 avocados, diced

Mustard vinaigrette dressing

  • 3 tsp mustard
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp maple syrup (or sweetener of your choice)
  • 3 tsp black pepper (or to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons water (optional)

Preparation

  • Combine all the salad ingredients in a large serving bowl.
  • Combine the ingredients for the dressing.
  • Add the dressing to the salad bowl and toss again.